EDINBURGH: Nearly two months after Britain shocked the world by voting to leave the European Union, Edinburgh festival is celebrating the European roots which have enriched its arts calendar for nearly 70 years.
With its medieval streets animated by late-night revellers, billboards and noisy hawkers promoting the latest shows, Edinburgh’s festival bears a striking resemblance to one of its most well-known continental peers — the annual arts festival held in Avignon in southeastern France.
But while dance and theatre dominate the Avignon Festival — founded in 1947 by French actor Jean Vilar — its northern cousin hosts artists from across the cultural spectrum, including circus, art-house theatre, musical comedy and cabaret.
In the Scottish capital, the International Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe, which is dominated by stand-up comedy, run alongside one another until August 29.
When the International Festival was created, “the idea of a multi-genre arts festival that we are now very familiar with was completely unknown,” festival director Fergus Linehan said.
“Rather than being the focus of celebrating an area or an art form, it was celebrating internationalism. And to be honest Europeanism in particular,” he said.
With a line-up including Italian opera “Norma”, which honours Cecilia Bartoli, “Richard III” by German director Thomas Ostermeier, and “Shake”, a French adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”, this year’s festival reflects the European culture that has nourished its repertoire since it began shortly after World War II.
The International Festival plays host to 75 shows in a dozen venues, while the Fringe hosts over 3,000 shows in 300 venues.
The latter sold nearly 2.3 million tickets in 2015, while overall attendance at the International Festival was estimated at more than 435,000 last year.
‘Proud to be European’
“The Fringe started off as a kind of more anarchic, kind of response to the established thing,” says Shona McCarthy, chief executive of the Edinburgh Fringe Society.
Artists at Fringe have been given full license to express their creativity ever since it was set up in 1947 as an alternative to the Edinburgh International Festival.
While the more recognized event boasts meticulous programming and strict form, all an artist needs to take part in Fringe is an idea and a willing venue.
McCarthy said she hoped Brexit would not be a barrier to international participation in the Fringe, which, like the International Festival, does not receive any direct EU funding.
Five shows selected by the French Institute of Scotland include Gogol’s “Diary of a Madman”, performed in English by French actor Antoine Robinet.
The Institute will also host a Turkish-language production of Boris Vian’s “The Empire Builders”, by Theatre Hayal Perdesi.
And if any doubt remains about the political leanings of the Scottish capital — where 75 percent of voters opted to remain in the EU — a sign in the window of the famous Patisserie Maxime lays it out clearly: “Proud to be European.”
Linehan said much of the anti-European rhetoric heard around the bitterly-fought referendum ran directly against the values of the festival.
“We are joined (to Europe) culturally, we can’t untangle us,” he said.